Removing the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

By Susan Kinross, Professional Counsellor

The Canadian Mental Health Association states that about 1 in 5 Canadians – over 6.5 million people – will experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime.  This is 20% of our population.

People with mental health issues face challenges in a myriad of ways. On top of their own internal sufferings, many struggle with basic necessary life supports, such as having a comfortable home, finding and/or maintaining employment, going to school, proper health care, gaining insurance, maintaining meaningful relationships, self-esteem and receiving love and acceptance.  On top of all these challenges and more, those with mental health conditions constantly face a very negative stigma that has been passed down historically through cultures, society, families and individuals.  This stigma implies that having a mental health disorder or issue means a person is somehow weak, incompetent, shameful, will never recover and will never be a contribution to society.  Moreover, the person is often blamed for having their condition.  Too often, they also blame themselves.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, most people with a mental health issue say that the stigma is actually worse than the symptoms they experience.  The CMHA further states that this stigma is – in reality – prejudice and discrimination, which is fueled by fear and misconceptions.  For example, many fear that a mentally-challenged person may become violent, which is actually unlikely.

In actuality, having a mental health issue ought to be as acceptable and given as much attention as having a physical health issue.  Both involve times of needing extra support; lifestyle adjustments; work flexibility; time off/out; non-judgemental  understanding and acceptance from others.  In fact, most people with mental health issues do recover and lead happy and productive lives.

Mental health challenges can affect anybody.  Taking a mind/body/spirit approach brings us balance.  Balance is crucial for emotional and mental well-being.  Our bodies’ needs include healthy food, exercise, and a good night’s sleep every night.  We  require healthy self-esteem, close & trusting relationships, emotional intimacy, caring, to love and be loved.  We all must learn how to manage the demands and stresses in our lives, and to handle our emotions.  We also need to learn to accept our own limits, listen to our body’s cues and pay attention to our needs.

With 20% of Canadians experiencing a mental health challenge at some point in their lifetime, it is time for all of us – individually and collectively – to remove any stigma that exists about emotional and mental health.  We can do this first by clearing up any of our own prejudices, getting more informed about mental health, and offering our help in our own way.  Talk to people struggling with mental health issues, and get to know them as the unique human beings that they are, that we all are.   Everyone deserves connection and positive regard, and we all as human beings are inherently worthy and equal.

 – I recently read “Changing My Mind” – a book of memoirs by Margaret Trudeau. In her inspiring book, Margaret speaks freely about her 30-year struggle with bi-polar disorder – what she has suffered, how she has been helped, and how she now focuses on what really matters to her in life.  She is an author and public speaker, who travels all over the world speaking to thousands of people about bi-polar disorder.  She is a continual advocate of helping to remove the stigma held about mental health issues.

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